Giving from the heart
Big idea: love your enemies towards salvation like your Father
Patience has a price.
Many of you will know the story of a man called Paul, or Saul - same guy, Roman and Jewish names. He went from being probably the most passionate and active enemy of the church to one of its greatest drivers in a pivotal moment on some road to Damascus back in the earliest years of the church. And then we see an incredible transformation: persecutor becomes preacher, one of the most destructive opponents of the church becomes one of the key drivers of it’s expansion. You can read the story in the book of Acts.
God, in his wisdom, rather than bringing judgement on that great enemy of the church - one who surely deserved it, who was doing terrible things - God withheld it. Rather than just striking him down one afternoon, deciding enough was enough - which He surely could have done - instead God spoke, and Saul’s life was turned around, his heart transformed. God was patient - and He was right to be so.
But turn the clock back a week, a month from that moment. Think of those Saul hurt as he went from house to house destroying the church. Families torn apart. Innocent thrown into prison. Some were even killed. God’s patience has a price.
God’s patience has a price - but that’s not just true for Saul and his ancient story - if you’re a follower of Jesus here today, it’s true in your story too. Maybe you didn’t send anyone to their death - but wrongs you have done will almost certainly have impacted others. That’s definitely true for me. I know I have thought things, said things, done things which have damaged others.
Now I’m repentant about that for sure - I’m sorry for where I have gone wrong and what I’ve done wrong; for who I was. I have agreed with God that my way was wrong, and His way is right. I am looking to Jesus for forgiveness. I am choosing to turn to His ways day by day - choosing repentance again and again as I still stumble and fail.
God was patient with me, holding out his gracious hand towards me - over years. But that patience had a price for those around me.
Maybe you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian here today? I want to tell you that God is being patient with you right now. You are not living His way. You are not bowing the knee to him as Lord. You are not living the righteous life the Lord calls us to.
Again, maybe you’re not sending people to their death, but I think I can say with solid confidence that even if you are really rather nice, you will have hurt other people - that’s the way life is. Perhaps not gravely, perhaps not yet - at least not that you know, not that you meant to.
But God in His righteousness could justly call time on your life right now. Like when the bell rings at the end of an exam, he could take your paper, mark your life, show you where you messed up, and fail you for it big-time. And it’s not like you have to get a C or above to make the grade - God’s standard is perfection and that’s something we’re just not. We all fall short.
God is being patient with you right now. Waiting for you. Holding out His hand to you even today, offering you His mercy. … But that patience has a price.
Why begin with this? We’re working our way through Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, and I think this idea that patience has a price is key to the passage we’re tackling this week.
We’ve been thinking about this whole section as Jesus laying out the blueprint for his Kingdom of transformed hearts, the design for his good and perfect Kingdom which is beginning to emerge in the midst of our broken world through Jesus transforming hearts.
Last week, Ewan helped us think through the what and the why of turning the other cheek - not taking revenge. If you thought “turn the other cheek” was hardcore, Jesus turns the dial all the way to 11 this week - there’s a big step up from the passive “do not resist an evil person” of Mt 5:39 to the active call to “love your enemies”.
Let’s read together - we’re in Matthew’s gospel, his biography of Jesus, and the end of chapter 5. Page 970 in these blue church bibles. Just look for the big 6 and go up a bit to verse 43 - tiny 43. Matthew chapter 5, starting at verse 43. Page 970. and Zoe’s reading for us this morning.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Thanks Zoe. Like I said, Jesus finishes this section of his blueprint for the Kingdom of Transformed hearts by turning that dial all the way up to 11. He’s been speaking to his people about how their righteousness needs to surpass the best-of-the-best of Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law, showing them how what’s needed is an inside-out righteousness which gets to the heart of how God wants us to live rather than just an outside-in righteousness of putting on a good performance, just ticking some boxes. And we’ve seen this inside-out righteousness isn’t earning us a place in God’s kingdom, it’s evidence we already have a place, like green shoots sprouting up from the transformed heart Jesus has planted in us.
Now there’s a lot which could be said about today’s passage - a lot has been said about it - but I want to focus on just three insights this morning, three things which are key to getting our heads around what Jesus is saying to us here. First,
This Kingdom blueprint is for children of God
Look down at verse 45. Why does Jesus explain the true heart of God’s Law? why does he call his followers into this radical, impossible-sounding, inside-out obedience to it? “that you may be children of your Father in heaven”. This is his goal, his purpose with the command, with getting to its heart. But what does it mean to be “children of your Father in heaven”? It’s not about biological descent - we’re all adopted into God’s family - so what is it about?
It’s definitely a precious and distinctive relationship - being children means God is our Father; He relates to us with every perfection of what it means to be a Father: loving, caring, disciplining, training, protecting, providing. It’s definitely about that. But calling us children of our Father also means there is a family likeness. We are characterised by our Father.
Now perhaps in earthly families we sometimes see a shadow of this: Do sporty dads “rub off”, meaning sporty children? Are our attitudes, our defaults shaped by our parents? Some of mine definitely were. Do we share genetic makeup meaning there is in fact some likeness: hair, a nose? Does the fact that I had rather long hair when I was younger have some connection to my rather long haired sons? There’s a measure of family likeness in biology, in character, in values, in behaviour, in outlook.
When Jesus speaks about us being children, and God our Father here, he’s also speaking about family likeness; God’s children increasingly share His character, His values, His attitudes. Not the finished product but as we begin to live out this Kingdom blueprint, we will more and more be, or become, children of God - in that we more and more reflect His character, His values.
So first insight for you: this Kingdom blueprint is for children of God - His family who increasingly share the family likeness. Why’s that important? As we try and get our heads around Jesus’ command to love our enemies, we have to understand that as part of the family likeness, something which flows out of the character and values of God himself.
And that’s exactly the point Jesus goes on to make: God loves all. Verse 45 again. Sun for the evil and the good. Rain for the righteous and the unrighteous. And notice, by the way, that God causes the sun to rise, Jesus claims here; it’s not just clockwork. Sure, it obeys the laws of physics - but God wrote those laws so his sun - see that too, it’s his sun - it rises on all people at his command. He sends the rain - actively, not passively. As he commands us to love actively, going beyond just turning the other cheek passively - sharing in the family likeness.
But there’s more to the family likeness than simply loving universally, evil and good alike, righteous and unrighteous alike. And that brings me onto my second insight:
God loves all - in patient hope
God loves all - but this love, His ongoing loving acts, don’t mean He’s ignoring evil, ignoring unrighteousness, inviting it to continue indefinitely, passively accepting it as just part of life, part of His world. God has been endlessly clear with us in the bible that there will be a reckoning. 100% of people die and after death comes judgement; God calling each one to account for their life. their deeds. I could quote any of a hundred passages but here’s Psalm 1
Psalm 1 (NIV)
Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
This is a commonplace of the Bible, repeated time and time again. Jesus is going to finish this section of teaching with a famous parable: A house built on rock - or on sand. He describes a coming flood: judgement, with destruction for those who do wrong. There will be a reckoning.
As Ewan showed us last week, the justice of God stands behind Jesus’ call to turn the other cheek: it is God’s to repay, he will avenge. We can turn the other cheek because we’re entrusting judgement to Him on the last day.
It’s the patient mercy of God which stands under Jesus’ call to go further still, and even love our enemies: God is patient, holding back judgement, wanting all to come to salvation. In his goodness he continues to actively send sun and rain in the meantime, holding out his hand toward them in invitation, creating time for them to respond. Peter, one of Jesus’ key followers, writes about exactly this: 2 Pet 3:7-9
By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
That’s the only explanation for how a God of righteousness and justice could actively cause his sun to rise on the evil and good, actively send rain on the righteous and unrighteous. In a farming-based society almost everyone knew exactly where the food on their plate came from: sun and rain are the crucial providence from God required for anything to grow, for there to be food for tomorrow, for life to continue.
Like a dead-man’s switch, if God takes his foot off, the whole thing comes to a stop. Yet instead of calling time, gathering the righteous and judging the wicked, in his wisdom and mercy, God actively loves, and patiently waits.
Children of God, sharing the family likeness, should rightly emulate him: Actively love. Even those who do wrong. Even our enemies. Even our persecutors - in patient hope they might be saved. Because those are the only two ways this ends: salvation or judgement.
And that brings me to my third and final insight here:
Patience has a price
This patience as we actively love our enemies, even those who persecute us, has a price. It has a price for those who are wronged and hurt - sometimes that’s us, sometimes, perhaps harder, it’s others who’ll pay.
Want to see what this looks like in practice? What it really looks like to turn the other cheek? More than that, to love your enemies. More than that, to pray for those who persecute you? Then look to Jesus, look to the cross. This patient love which runs in the family has a price for God, too. And we see that most plainly at the cross.
Jesus’ enemies hated him so much they orchestrated his shaming, his torture, even his death - the most awful death the world of his day had to offer. No tragic misunderstanding or accident - this was a carefully laid plan by ruthless enemies who would stop at nothing.
So why does Jesus walk right into it, led by the Spirit? So why does Jesus let it happen, not call legions of angels to his side and fight instead? He loves his enemies. It’s going to cost him. Cost him dear. Patience has a price. But still, he loves his enemies. He prays for those who persecute him. He walks the path of the Kingdom, the path of obedience all the way to the end.
Now I would have called time. Judgement now. This has gone far enough. Mercy exhausted, patience exhausted, time up. But Jesus goes all the way. In love. In hope. For his enemies.
In love, he weeps over the same Jews who would plot his death Lk 19:41. In hope, he prays “father forgive them” for the same soldiers who had driven nails through his hands Lk 23:34. And then he pays the price and dies.
God knows first hand that patience has a price; loving enemies in hope has a price.
But it’s a price He deems worth paying. For his enemies. For us. Rom 5:10
Romans 5:10 (NIV)
while we were God’s enemies,
we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son
We too where his enemies. Jesus doesn’t give us this costly command to love our enemies, to pray for our persecutors, in the abstract. It runs in the family.
And Jesus gives this costly command to us, people who’ve already experienced it from the other side, as his enemies.
So, three insights for you:
The Kingdom blueprint is for children of God, children who increasingly share the Father’s likeness
God loves all in patient hope - he’s not ignoring evil or overlooking unrighteousness, .. and
Patience has a price - a price God, in love, thinks is worth paying
So what? That’s the question we always want to ask - so what does this mean for you and me?
Grasp God’s Mercy
First of all, if you’ve never done it yet, grasp God’s mercy. See the love he is extending to you now, patiently, in hope. He’s not ignorant of where you’ve fallen short, you haven’t got away with it, hidden it successfully under the rug. He’s patient - with a purpose. Wanting your salvation, reaching out to you even now as I speak.
There’s a line, a limit, an end date coming. A day where this door of hope will be closed leaving you God’s enemy - with only judgement ahead. Grasp God’s mercy today.
I’m going to give you a short prayer you can use to do that right now. A moment to read it through and decide if you want to make it your own.
God, I was going the wrong way. I’m sorry. I want to go the right way.
Thank you that Jesus did everything right, yet took the punishment for all my wrong when he died on the cross
Thank you that Jesus rose into new life, and that I can share that new life because of him
I want to follow you now - so as best as I know how, I give you my life.
I’m going to pray it now - pray along with me in your head if you’re ready to grasp God’s mercy today. ...
Did you pray that prayer? Let someone know - you’ve joined a new family and we’d love to welcome you in, to help you take your first steps in this new life. Speak to a Christian friend. Speak to me. If you’re online, there’s a button you can click to connect with us too.
And what if you have grasped that mercy, have joined this family through God’s grace?
Well I haven’t touched yet on verse 48:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Jesus closes this whole section on the heart of the Law, the true way of the King, with something that simply sounds impossible. Be perfect. After showing us just what that would mean, peace making, pure, merciful to the max. Is Jesus setting an impossible standard here? Is this whole thing just a crushing list of impossible demands?
It’s hard to read it that way, like Jesus expects and demands 10/10 all the way, because he’s just about to teach his followers to pray “forgive us our debts.” 10/10s don’t have debts.
But at the other extreme we can read this and just throw our hands up in the air, saying “of course I can’t do that; I’m not perfect. I guess I just need more mercy and grace.” But Jesus guards against wallowing at that end of the spectrum too, telling us clearly again and again in his teaching that he actually expects us to put his words here into practice - as the parable he closes out with puts it. Mt 7:24
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
So what does he mean, perfect? It does have that 10/10 sense - meeting the highest standard. But the original Greek word here also has a sense of being mature, full-grown, fully developed, complete. And that I think is what he’s getting at - remember how loving your enemy is taking on the family likeness, being children of the Father? Being perfect - or mature, full-grown - is about growing us into that family, taking on the family resemblance. About the way of the King - which was impossible, above and beyond us all - becoming second nature, or first nature.
It’s not what makes you part of the family - we’ve talked about this repeatedly as we think about Jesus’ blueprint for his Kingdom of transformed hearts. Following the blueprint isn’t what earns your place in the kingdom, what earns your place in the family. The blueprint give us evidence to see we are part of that family. Evidence that develops over time like green shoots sprouting up above the ground.
Evidence of the transformed heart God plants within us, evidence of His powerful Spirit alive and at work within. Evidence that his patient love towards us has borne the fruit he hoped for.
“Become in act what you are in fact” is how one commentator put it - which I thought was rather neat. Loving your enemies - like Jesus, like the Father - is taking on the family resemblance. Jesus’ closing call here to be perfect - or to grow up - is the call to become in act what you are in fact. To let that seed sprout up, up, up, to let the family resemblance increasingly show through. Does that make sense? To increasingly resemble the King in his Kingdom, increasingly reflect our Father, His character, His values, His ways. And it is just that - a reflection of who He is, what He’s done.
How are you different from anyone else?
So with that in mind, I want to leave us with the question Jesus has for us: “what are you doing more than others?” Mt 5:47 or as the New Living Translation renders it “how are you different from anyone else?”
And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
If you’ve been with us through the series, think back a few weeks and you might remember Jesus describes his people as the salt of the Earth - different - how Jesus describes his people as the light of the world - visible - how he calls us to let our good deeds shine before others to the praise and glory of our Father in heaven.
If we’re no different to the world around us then there’s no saltiness to taste. There’s no light to see. And that’s where Jesus’ Kingdom call to love not just our friends but even our enemies comes home: actually living this out is different, dramatically different to the world around.
God continues to extend sun and rain to all, including his enemies -in patient hope. Jesus loves and prays even for his enemies - in patient hope. As children of our Father in heaven, we are to grow up. To become in act what we are in fact. That’s how we’re to be different.
Patience has a price - loving your enemies, praying for them in hope - but what Jesus is calling for is what Jesus himself delivers. He’s no armchair general sending you to suffer and yet love while he stays at home - he’s a God who hurts, a God who bleeds. Let’s stand and sing together, turning our hearts back to this anchor for our salvation and for our calling.
Big idea: love your enemies towards salvation like your Father
— application development —
So, if you’re to patiently love in hope, who are your enemies? And how can you love them?
In Jesus’ context, most people hearing him would have thought of the Romans, the oppressors, the conquering overlords. And perhaps that’s why greeting comes to the foreground here - the word is more than just “hi” as you pass someone - “daily exchange among friends” is how one commentator puts it. It has the sense of connecting as people rather than just a transaction.
And perhaps that’s one simple way for us to think about loving enemies - so often we treat our enemies as a pack, give them a label, and only engage from a distance. Whether it’s nationalists vs. unionists, or traditionalists vs. progressives, or a hundred other opposed pairs. Some of the best Christian/non-Christian debates I’ve ever seen have been the fruit of relationship, of connection, rather than an impersonal exchange of hostilities. Meeting and treating our enemies as people can be a first step towards this - why I think Jesus calls out greetings specifically.
And what should pray for them? What would be different from anyone else?
But what about when it’s beyond opposition and into persecution? Jesus calls us to pray for those who persecute us. What sort of prayers do you think he had in mind? His own model like we already saw was “father forgive them” - and that forgiveness is only possible through their repentance, their transformation and turning. Jesus is effectively praying for that, the saving grace, the opening of their eyes to their desperate need for forgiveness and only hope of it through Jesus. I think we see the same thing in the prayer Ananias made for Saul, that persecutor of the early church we began with: Ananias prays for his enemy: healing and filling with the Spirit. Salvation.
Greeting and praying grow up from the same root: love - love which causes us to hope and pray and work for the ultimate good of our enemies - a good which as Christians we believe is only found through a saving relationship with Jesus.